Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar on Day 1 of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi. HT photo /Virendra Singh Gosain
Rather than wait for the atmosphere in Pakistan to improve, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should not delay his visit to the neighbouring country so that an impetus to bilateral relations can be given now.
This was the essence of Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar's pitch at a session on the opening day of the two-day Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here on Friday.
Aiyar, a former minister and career diplomat, advocates strong ties with Pakistan and holds the view that India should soften its stand on vis-à-vis Pakistan.
New Delhi has been insisting that for Singh to visit Pakistan to forge better ties, Islamabad should bring the plotters and minders of the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes to justice.
The peacenik, however, faced sceptics at the 10th annual Hindustan Times Leadership Summit where he was addressing the session, Securing South Asia: The Way Forward, along with former head of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) Ajit Kumar Doval and former US defence secretary William S Cohen.
Countering Aiyar's optimism, Doval listed instances of Islamabad's terror strategies directed against India.
Doval, who spoke after Aiyar, said that unless countries faced common threats, they can't come together to formulate common strategies.
Citing an example, Doval said terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba remained a threat to India but not to Pakistan. Similarly, the Haqqani network, another terror group, is also a threat to Afghanistan (and India) but not to Pakistan.
Doval expressed his views in response to Aiyar's comment: "I often wonder how we can have the best of relations with faraway Paraguay and not with Pakistan".
Aiyar added that the time was ripe for India and Pakistan to open a new chapter in their relationship and that the Prime Minister should visit the neighbouring country.
With Pakistan set to go to the polls early next year, the Indian government is also working within the constraints of time to see whether it is possible to create the right atmosphere for the Prime Minister to visit Pakistan.
Doval, accusing Pakistan of using terror strategies against India, said that as India began to rise as an economic power - triggered by factors such the rapid progress by its software industry - Pakistan changed its strategy, which had been Kashmir-centric.
"As a result, one could see terror attacks taking place in centres of economic growth such as Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad," Doval said.
Giving a South Asian perspective to the US's rebalancing strategy in South Asia, Cohen said the common threats such as piracy and extremism should be dealt with collectively.
He stressed that the increasing cooperation between India and the US augured well for the region and that New Delhi was set to play a greater role in Asia.
The former US defence secretary asserted that his country's rebalancing strategy was not aimed at containing China in any way. The US has already said India is a pivot in its rebalancing strategy, which New Delhi finds politically difficult to accept openly.
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